“I would say, if you have a vision, an idea stick to that. If you have an idea, you have to believe in it and even if the situation is not that good you have to believe in it and make it happen,” says the co-founder of CentreCourt.de, Dirk Buchholz.
Rostock, in northern Germany, has one of Germany’s highest unemployment rates. Yet it is home to one of the most successful companies on the net: CenterCourt.de
In the middle of nowhere, in the former industrial zone of one of the most important cities in the former Communist German Democratic Republic, two friends have started a website which has become the leading website for tennis fans in German-speaking countries.
They sell online but more than that, they have become a reference on the market. Their tests and reviews are widely respected. There is no innovation on the tennis market which is not tested by CenterCourt’s experts and users. One negative note or comment here can cost the equipment-makers millions. It is an entrepreneurial miracle for some, but not for Michael Martens, one of the co-founders. For him failure was not an option.
“I had no perspective, I was one among many guys. I played tennis, but I didn’t know what to do with my life. I think others have certainly thought that we were out of our minds. I discovered that later. My family was honest and said: ‘That´s probably not going to work but we will support you anyways’. I think we both were quite sure, that we were going to make it.”
Once an internet order is placed, a CenterCourt technician finds the item in a huge warehouse which contains over 100.000 different products. Raquets can be customized to the client’s demands, from stringing to engraving. A laser machine engraves what the customer wants, before it is sent off in an anonymous package.
But CenterCourt is something more than an online shop. It is a community, with a real interaction between the company and the customer.
Customers provide criticisms and suggestions and are the real wealth of this company. The user can determine the success or failure of a product, which bypasses signing up conventional endorsement advertising from successful sports personalities.
The company asks its own users to test products and share their opinions.
“Here we have our test rackets. You can buy tennis rackets and test them as well. That means before you buy a racket you can borrow one. You pay a small lending fee. For four days you pay 6,95 euros. Afterwards you either send the racket back or you buy it and we return you the lending fee,” says Martens.
In order to be successful, you have to love what you sell. Dirk and Michael have always been crazy about tennis. Whenever they can they play and they post their impressions of the products they are using.
This is something that investors like, because interaction with thousands of people on the web and criticisms on every single product cannot be bought with advertising. It is really free, therefore respected by users, and is something which many other companies cannot afford to do without losing suppliers as Dirk Buchholz explains:
“We do a lot of marketing in different ways. We sell on different platforms. We sell also in different countries. We are very strong on Facebook, we have 80, 85,000 friends. On Facebook we are the biggest European tennis community. We have a youtube brandchannel, we have our own blog and we produce many videos with our own in-house tests.”
Another plus for CenterCourt is the link they have created between the “virtual” community on the net and the “real” community in their region and their city: Rostock. They have bet on entrepreneurial responsability. Leaving Rostock for another “hyper” destination was never an option.
“We are from the former Communist GDR and now, after reunification, we are happy that we have succeded in reunified Germany. We certainly feel responsibility towards our fellow co-workers and we are also proud that we are in Rostock, that we have created so many good jobs. We are a good, young and very dynamic team,” says Dirk.